I liked Strasbourg a lot when I visited in the midst of my flatmate crisis all the way back in July 2011,
but hadn't given a lot of thought to Alsace since, even though I now live quite close by. But then I noticed Colmar cropping up on a lot of those Buzzfeed-style lists of "most charming towns" or "places to see before you die", so when I saw that the forecast for last weekend was hot and sunny, I put that together with the fact that it was one of my last free weekends before moving further away (Colmar is around a 2.5 hour drive from Metz, so around 5 hours from Brussels) and suggested a spontaneous overnight trip to Jules. He just got a new car and didn't need much persuading to take it for an extended spin (we got to make full use of the electronic sun roof), so earlyish on Saturday morning we hit the road, arriving at our hotel around 11.30 am.
I had two main goals: see the Issenheim Altarpiece, and wander around the streets taking photos of all the picturesque half-timbered buildings I'd seen online. The first goal was facilitated by the fact that it was "Museum Night" when we visited, meaning that all the museums had special late openings (for free!), so that meant that we had the whole afternoon to stroll about the city. Minus the two hours we spent sitting at a café in the sunshine, of course.
The first impression was that Colmar is, indeed, amazingly lovely and charming. Rows of brightly-painted half-timbered houses, narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque canals, ivy- or rose-covered façades: it's got it all. Cue (by the way, has anyone else noticed "que" suddenly cropping up everywhere for "cue"? Irritating) much frenzied snapping and posing in an attempt to capture the perfect shot without a million old people in the background. (Nothing against old people, but there were a hell of a lot of them cluttering up every picturesque landscape and taking a long time to move out of shot.)
|My sunglasses broke :( So mission #1 was finding an H&M for some cheap replacements, but not before a couple of squinty photo opps|
|Statue in front of the Bertholdi museum - a native of Colmar who designed the Statue of Liberty|
|So many outfits|
Obviously, it was amazingly cute. I have literally dozens more photos that I could put up showing the city's charms. As time went on though, we were both reflecting on whether it was too cute, too chocolate-box. It's tedious to go somewhere as a tourist and then complain that it's touristy (fair game when you live there though, as long as you're not too obnoxious about it). Although I try to pride myself on not being a "bad" tourist (talking too loudly, stopping dead in the middle of the street, wearing a backpack on a crowded train etc.), god forbid I turn into one of those pretentious wankers who like to drone on about being a "traveller, not a tourist, maaaan". I think Colmar is partly saved by the fact that everything doesn't look brand spanking new - the paint is bright, but you can tell it hasn't all been uniformly slapped on in the last year or whatever. But although it is genuinely, really really pretty and I enjoyed seeing it, it maybe lacks a bit of soul.
The plan for the evening was to grab an early dinner and then go to the museum afterwards. However, every restaurant we had scoped out online was either full or didn't appeal in person. So we decided to quickly nip in to the Dominican church - which is currently housing the Issenheim altarpiece and a few other works while its usual home, the Unterlinden Museum, is being renovated - before eating. It was actually really nice seeing these works in an ecclesiastical setting, and thanks to the free entry, the church had a lively buzz to it which you wouldn't necessarily usually associate with a museum or church.
At first, I thought just the big crucifixion scene below was the altarpiece, but it turns out that it was a very elaborate multi-part piece with folding doors over a carved wooden centre (I took a photo of a helpful model below). I didn't fall in love with it, but I think I definitely appreciated it more once I realised the scope of the work.
|The altarpiece (painted panels on the left and wooden carving on the right) in the Dominican church|
|The altarpiece's central scene|
|A very green, very dead Jesus being laid in the tomb|
|Jesus had the grossest feet I've ever seen|
|Another set of wings of the altarpiece|
|Close-up of monsters on the altarpiece|
|A model showing how the altarpiece was put together|
|Another elaborate altarpiece by a different artist (there's like 8 different panels to it as well). I actually liked the vivid colours of this one better than the Issenheim altarpiece|
After checking out the church, the idea was to have a quick dinner before taking a quick look at the rest of the collection in the Unterlinden Museum (which closed at 10 pm). We just decided to sit at the nearest place, which was a mistake. We had to sit outside because it was full inside, which was okay at first but got progressively colder (and neither of us had brought a jacket out), which wouldn't have been too bad except the service was soooo slow. I was feeling sick (too much bubbles of the winey variety in the bath methinks), we were freezing, and the food was fine but not good enough to make up for the service. We had taken a fixed menu and wanted to abandon before the cheese course (which took so long to come that I wondered whether they were actually making some elaborate cheese-based confection - nope, it was just a bit of munster on a plate) except that we asked for the bill several times (when we could flag down a waiter, which wasn't often) and they didn't bring it. Instead of a tip (which are included anyway in the bill in France, before anyone gets upset), I wrote "Slow service" and a frowny face on the receipt. So thanks Restaurant Pfeffel for making us miss out on going to the museum. We should have left earlier, if you have to say "I'm going to the loo, if they haven't taken our order by the time I get back, we're leaving", you should probably just leave. Well, at least we managed to see the jewels in the Unterlinden collection before dinner...